[I want to thank Monica Gagliano, a biologist in Western, Australia, whose Bioneers 2018 talk (link) caused me to do some serious introspection this morning at the 8th Prairie Fire Bioneers Conference held at Knox College.]
I’ve recently fallen in love with plants. It has taken some time, it wasn’t something that happened overnight. Over the past ten or so years, I been surrounding myself with plants more and more. It started with me growing 13’ okra with my neighbor. This led me to help start a community farm that still exists in my small city. Then I started an educational farm on my college’s campus. Next came building a raised bed of plants in the front of my house (how you treat your front yard is a political statement) then installing a butterfly waystation (also in my front lawn). Currently, my freezer has seeds of many plants, my basement is full of aging seeds, pawpaw seeds are germinating in my living room, and houseplant propagation has become a regular activity. Last semester I even remember bringing spider plants to my class and saying, confidently, “this is the beginning of a major campaign. I plan to put plants in every classroom in the world!” So, as you can see, my love has become somewhat of an obsession.
Yet, despite all this effort, I never really understood what was driving me to do this. As of this morning, I may have an inkling. Plants have imaginations (if you are incredulous about this, please watch Gagliano’s video and check out her scientific articles and books). What does this have to do with me? Well, as most can attest, I have quite an imagination as well. As a child, relatives called me “Mr. non-sequitur.” As an aspiring local politician, I was described (in print), somewhat pejoratively, “a dreamer.”
Where does my imagination take me? I firmly believe that humans will resolve our current “insurmountable” challenges. I know we can do so. I live every day with this in mind and heart. I don’t know how, but I am “audacious” (to borrow a term used by Gagliano) enough to imagine a world where hunger, poverty, preventable disease, racism, misogyny and pollution don’t exist.
Plants imagine these things to. How do I know? Why wouldn’t they? Haven’t their ancestors lived in a world without these horrible things? This is why I think I’ve been surrounding myself with plants. They imagine this world and they live everyday to make it happen (again). We probably have a non-verbal, mutualistic, hopeful exchange daily. Sadly, many of the people I know can’t seem to imagine these things. And I think I have been becoming a bit more reclusive (to humans) in reaction to this.
I think this “state of mind” that I have is the ultimate privilege. I think our deeply racist, capitalist, misogynist, nationalistic, militaristic world has destroyed most people’s ability to imagine a different world. Fortunately, Bioneers has repeatedly reminded me that many humans are still able to imagine such things and are working every day to achieve them. I am glad to have this local Bioneers “shot” every year and I am also grateful to have plants around to remind me that another world is not only possible, it is imperative.